Fly, Fly Again

January 7, 2020 at 4:56 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: Fly, Fly Again

Authors: Katie Jaffe & Jennifer Lawson

Illustrator: Tammie Lyon

Genre: Children’s Storybook/ Picture Book

First and foremost, kiddo and I were blown away that Buzz Aldrin–THE BUZZ ALDRIN–wrote the foreword for this picture book. How cool is that? (My father, an engineer alum of the same university as Aldrin, was pretty impressed as well. Frequently, he reads my kiddo picture books and comments about how children’s publishing has “come a long way.”)

Reminiscent of The Questioneers series (of which we have every title!) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts, Jaffe and Lawson’s new book encourages critical thinking skills, creative wonder, and diligence to pursue dreams.

Kiddo loved the story, she’s nine, and still enjoys the magic of a children’s storybook even though she’s also reading chapter books now. She’s heard me quote “Try, Try Again” her whole life and learned to read on McGuffey’s which includes the poem in its reading exercises, so there was a genuine snicker when Hawk raised his feather and included the play on words, “If at first you don’t succeed, fly, fly again!”

“It is a great book, no one can doubt that. The airplane design [in the illustrations] is amazing. But you still can’t put that many people and pets into a wagon WITH a motor,” Kiddo told me. She is now monologuing design flaws, propellor safety, and superior ways to attempt this project. I think the book has done exactly its job: spiked STEM thinking.

Fly, Fly Again is a new favorite we plan to read often.

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Top 10 of 2019

January 3, 2020 at 7:03 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Top Ten – 2019

  1. Hard Road West: History and Geology Along the Gold Rush Trail – Keith Heyer Meldahl
  2. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo – Tom Reiss
  3. The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World – Abigail Tucker
  4. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman
  5. The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood – Barb Bentler Ullman
  6. The Forest for the Trees – Betsy Lerner
  7. Warriors of the Storm & The Flame Bearer – Bernard Cornwell
  8. The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt – Kara Cooney
  9. Alloy of Law – Brandon Sanderson
  10. George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution – Brian Kilmeade

First off, I read over 120 books this year. The numbers between 120 and 130 get hazy, because I read a lot out loud to my kid and try not to include picture books in the numbers, but we still occasionally review picture books on Goodreads. Combined, my daughter and I are also halfway through a dozen books or so (some read alouds, some audiobooks, some books that I’m actually just reading to myself). Out of the 120 these are the books I chose for my top ten. They’re sort of in order, but don’t hold me to it. My ranking system may be moody at best. Everything in the top ten list, however, I will read again, and never give up my copy (or will purchase new copies if I do), if I can help it.

Hard Road West is a history and geology book. For a geologist to make me laugh while reading, and want to make plans to re-read the book again and again, that’s not just something, but something worthy of a Number One spot.

The Black Count is a riveting depiction of an era and author everyone should read, especially in the racially charged climate which we currently reside. It shows that there are always racist turds and always kind people that get along, regardless of policies and customs. It gives an in depth study of Dumas and why and how he wrote the sort of stories that intrigue us hundreds of years later. Rich in content and writing style, I’m putting this on my kid’s high school reading list.

The Lion in the Living Room is a spunky account of felines. Thorough, scientific, and enjoyable, this journalistic presentation of the most common house pet and city pest is completely engrossing.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine surprised me. I’m not known for picking up “new” books, contemporary New York Times bestsellers, while they’re still considered somewhat current. Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick (as cute as I think the actress is) would usually be a turn off for me. Typically I wait to read these sorts of things until I nab them in clearance years after the excitement has died down. Usually I read them and think, that was nice, and set it aside. Water for Elephants is a prime example: Enjoyable, but I’d probably only read it again if I was stuck in a waiting room, without reading material, and it happened to be left behind by someone else. Gruen is actually excellent waiting room material. But Eleanor Oliphant captivated me from the first page. As someone who is known to have some Asperger markers and has suffered from PTSD, I found myself reading Eleanor’s internal monologues (in the beginning, much less later in the book) and thinking, YES! Eleanor is definitely a distinct character, all her own, who also manages to be extremely relatable. I was surprised I loved the book so much. I am still surprised it has resonated with me for months. I’m even more surprised it has made it to my annual top ten list.

The Fairies of Nutfolk Wood completely captivated my daughter and I. It doesn’t have nearly as much fairy wonderland as you’d expect from the marketing, dealing more with life issues of the little girl who can see Nutfolk Wood, but it was exactly what we needed when we needed it. We purchased and enjoyed the sequel as well, and I would love to read more by this fairly obscure children’s author.

The Forest for the Trees is possibly one of the most motivational writing books I’ve ever read, aside from On Writing by Stephen King. I loved reading Lerner’s experience with authors from her unique perch as an editor. Her whole career actually fascinated me, and motivated me to get more word counts per day, and clean up my manuscripts in a timely fashion. That being said, I’m still a typical writer and I missed my own self imposed deadline this Christmas. Pushing for February and praying for my publishing house in all they deal with!

Warrior of the Storm and The Flame Bearer are Bernard Cornwell books I read this year. It’s unfair to give them their own lines as they belong to the Saxon Tales series (my favorite) and will push everything off the list always! My love for this series knows no bounds and I can’t wait to finish the series and start over from the beginning. I wrote Nancy & Uhtred as a love of the series letter to Bernard Cornwell and my dream is still for him to one day read my little novelette, because his books truly move me.

The Woman Who Would Be King is a speculative biography on Hatshepsut. I’m fascinated by Hatshepsut and have read two or three biographies on her this year. I’ve read biographies on her in the past as well. I’m completely convinced it was she who pulled Moses from the river and I have a life long mission to read everything scholarly ever written on or about the woman.

Alloy of Law is just down right fun. Can we all just come out and say it together? Brandon Sanderson is amazing, his books are amazing, and he’s the best fantasy writer currently writing fantasy. And he’s so diligent, he actually puts out books regularly. Mistborn is possibly my favorite adult fantasy series of all time. I know, those are dangerous words when Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings captured my heart for decades, but Sanderson’s working is not to be taken lightly or dismissed. His books will become longstanding classics. I did prefer the original series to what I’ve read of this second trilogy, but I think that’s just a matter of personal preference, not writing or storytelling ability.

George Washington’s Secret Six is the story that inspired the tv show Turn. I love American Revolutionary history. Our nation’s foundation is pretty intense and Kilmeade is a great storyteller to armchair (or backyard hammock) historians. His work can be easily passed to upper middle school and high school students, and I’d like to read them all.

Honorable Mentions (or the books that would be included in a top 20 list, in no particular order):

Grayson – Lynne Cox

The Lost for Words Bookshop – Stephanie Butland

The Last Duel: A True Story of Crime, Scandal, and Trial by Combat in Medieval France – Eric Jager

The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia – Laura Miller

Keeping Your Kids on God’s Side: 40 Conversations to Help Them Build a Lasting Faith – Natasha Crain

Leviathan Wakes – James S.A. Corey

Trouble is a Friend of Mine – Stephanie Tromley

Founder, Fighter, Saxon, Queen: Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians – Margaret C. Jones

Matilda Bone – Karen Cushman

Byzantium: the Early Centuries – John Julius Norwich

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From Books… Adventure

December 6, 2019 at 4:48 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

A Romp Through John Oehler’s latest: Ex Libris

I’ve been reading John Oehler’s books for years now. My first introduction to his books was Aphrodesia in August of 2013. I remember being naively surprised by how much a book could make me blush. After I met in the author in person at a Half Price Books event I had coordinated, I promised myself I’d read every book he ever wrote. Oehler is endearing, kind, and fun to be around, something you don’t necessarily expect out of someone who writes the kind of thrillers that win him awards.

Oehler writes adventures for people who want to travel, his books are rich with globetrotting and exotic locations. For someone who rarely leaves my armchair, that’s a big part of my reading experience desires, and for this reason, Papyrus is probably my favorite of his work.

His books are also full of lavish descriptions compacted into succinct sentences like this one from Ex-Libris:

“The confessional felt like an upright coffin. Beyond the grate, a balding priest with a hooked nose stared straight ahead, his wrinkled face more stern than compassionate.”

Just released in September, Ex-Libris is Oehler’s latest novel to date and one Amazon reviewer has already praised it for its “dangerous characters with just a taste of whimsy.”

The book does indeed have a full cast of badasses with their own personal dynamics. Paulette and Martine have my favorite dialogues, clever Doctor Who style companions to our hero, Dan.

If you liked Ludlum’s Bourne Identity, you’ll appreciate Oehler’s fight sequences, political intrigue, and consistent tension.

Some reviewers compare Ex-Libris to Dan Brown’s popular Da Vinci Code series. I have never read Brown’s books, and I would have preferred to read more antiquarian bibliophile geeking out and theological analysis theories— where other reviewers thought there was already too much of this. It just goes to show, you can’t please everyone, even when you’re a stellar genre writer.

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Our Secret Country

November 16, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

“Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country but for most of us it is only an imaginary country. Edmund and Lucy were luckier than other people in that respect,” C. S. Lewis wrote in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

The thing is, the thing that C. S. Lewis as narrator doesn’t address, is that everyone who has ever read the Chronicles of Narnia series *does* have that country. We all visit some version of Narnia in our minds once we’ve been there once. And as it says in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, “Once a king or queen of Narnia, always a king or queen of Narnia.” 

So here I am, thirty-five, living in the magical world of Narnia as my daughter reads through the series for about the third or fourth time, but this time we’re reading it alongside our homeschool co-op. It is such a treat watching children enjoy the magic of Narnia, and furthermore bask in its magical glory with them.

Mr. Tumnus

The Chronicles of Narnia is a well known allegory of the Christian faith set in a fantasy world. Good and evil are clearly define, deadly sins and how they creep into our psyche, how unchecked they fester and change who we are. The stories enthrall children and adults alike, who have a thirst for the eternal, who long for the otherworldly aspect of our universe, the spiritual war that goes on every day unseen to the naked eye, but experienced in living color when you step through the Professor’s “Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe.”

Turkish Delights

We’ve been reading the books together and discussing them book club style with children ranging from 7 to 13 and moms from 27 to 50. At the close of book two, we took a Narnia party break, complete with homemade snowflakes (the kids got to learn about hexagonal snowflake patterns and how to recreate them with computer paper and a pair of scissors), try Turkish delights for the first time (and marvel at why Edmund would basically sell his soul for such an awful dessert), and pose in costume under a welcoming Narnia sign and the iconic lamppost (artistic cardboard craftsmanship compliments of my impressive fiancé, kiddo spray painted it black herself).

Queen Susan

Of course, in my typical fashion, I had to read “grown up” books in addition to re-reading the original stories. Because C. S. Lewis made such an imprint on society, there are more literary criticism books about Narnia than there are Narnia books. Most of them written by Christians. However, I found one written by a non-Christian which greatly intrigued me.

The Magician’s Book is an in-depth critical analysis of the Chronicles of Narnia. As much memoir in content as literary analysis, Miller chronicles her own relationship with Narnia and includes insightful conversational commentary by other big name writers of many faiths (Neil Gaiman being one of my favorites). I enjoyed her perspective a great deal and though I was saddened that Aslan the lion did not aid in her understanding the nature of Christ, that she did not come to understand God’s love through Lewis’s fantastical depiction of it.

Still, reading Miller’s work led me down a rabbit trail I’m happy to tumble through, and I’ve already lined up all sorts of other books regarding C. S. Lewis and Narnia to read during the rest of our Narnia journey. Join us. We start Horse and His Boy next and are reading The World According to Narnia by Jonathan Rogers as we go. We plan to finish all seven Narnia books by the end of the school year.

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Justice Gone

November 9, 2019 at 4:27 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Justice and police dramas have been hot topics for what seems to be my entire life. From Law and Order being popular on television, to John Grisham being all the rage for most of my adolescence; and now, in my adulthood, police brutality and Blue Lives Matter is constantly on the news. So it’s not surprising that a crime novel about the judicial system and police murders would win awards.

N. Lombardi Jr. is the author of Justice Gone, a courtroom thriller published on February 22, 2019 (which just so happens to be mine and George Washington’s birthday). After some googling, I discovered that Lombardi “has spent over half his life in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, working as a groundwater geologist. Nick can speak five languages: Swahili, Thai, Lao, Chinese, and Khmer (Cambodian).” (Noveldelights.com)

Within mere months of publication, Justice Gone had already won three awards:

  • National Indie Excellency Award
  • American Fiction Awards
  • Silver Medal Winner, Readers’ Favorite

And most recently added the New York City Big Book Award to its lengthy honors.

That’s pretty impressive. And reading the book, it’s obvious why Justice Gone has received so much attention. Lombardi has tackled the genre with the same fast-paced finesse that intrigued readers all over the world in 1989 with A Time to Kill.

The first in what will possibly be a series featuring the character Dr. Tessa Thorpe, Justice Gone reminded me a bit of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley books, primarily regarding my stress level while reading. Books like this are emotionally intense, and must be tackled in the right mood for someone like me who has moved on from voraciously reading the bloody suspense of Nelson Demille (between the ages of 12 to 22) to cozy mysteries featuring crochet, coffee, and craft shops at the ripe old age of 35 (complete with fuzzy socks and glasses sliding down my nose).

Justice Gone would be excellent fodder for a feisty book club: homelessness issues, the criminal justice system, thoughts on PTSD, even addiction and recovery methods… there are so many rabbit trails of heated debates waiting to happen. Have the wine ready and let the rabid discussions begin!

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October Reads

October 31, 2019 at 4:40 am (Diffuse And Read, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

We’ve had quite the month, here at the Whims House, and I’m pleased with our progress – both recreationally and educationally.

The Lost for Words Bookshop – Stephanie Butland

I will always pick up books about bookstores. This one was especially wonderful for me, as the main character made it impossible for me not to imagine one of my favorite humans in the world while reading it – even if they are definitely drastically human beings. Butland did a great job writing believable characters with all the fantastical coziness of the perfect bookstore and the sensational backdrop of an imperfect past. I enjoyed the unfolding of all the story layers.

Mere Christianity – C. S. Lewis

Kiddo has had a lot of tough questions lately regarding life, the universe, and everything. So–naturally–I consulted the best of the best: C. S. Lewis. He is my go-to for finding the words to explain all the hard questions and bible verses that I don’t know how to address.

Tepui: The Last Expedition – John Oehler

John Oehler has a new book out: Ex-Libris. I had already read Tepui, but I wanted to re-read it before I jumped into his newest novel because I read Tepui at a not-so-great time in life and failed to write a proper review for this author I love. I’ll be reading Ex-Libris before Thanksgiving. I highly recommend anything Oehler puts out, feel free to join me for an Ex-Libris read along.

The Romance of Tristan and Iseult – M. Joseph Bedier

Tristan and Iseult – Rosemary Sutcliff

As a homeschool mom, I find it important to go back to the classics as much as I can. So while I read Sutcliff’s version out loud to the kiddo, I made sure I read Bedier’s to myself. (Read my blog post here.)

The Sea of Monsters – Rick Riordan

It took us longer than expected to get through the first two Percy Jackson books, but don’t let that dissuade you from understanding how hooked we are. We’re just spread thin and don’t have as much time as we’d like to have. We’ll spend November reading Titan’s Curse.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

I loved this book. I wasn’t expecting to love it, contemporary fiction pieces with Reese Witherspoon’s name stamped all over them aren’t typically the kind of books that call my name. Eleanor Oliphant, however, is a true gem, and I love her dearly–like an old friend.

Morningstar: Growing Up With Books – Ann Hood

Ann Hood books have been cropping up everywhere, for me. Until one day I glanced at a pile and realized I had a nice little collection of freebies and clearance purchases all by the same woman. It intrigued me, seeing this little pile, realizing I knew nothing about her. So I started with The Obituary Writer and began adding her books to my monthly TBR pile, with every intention of reading everything she has in publication by the end of 2020.

Gaspara Stampa Selected Poems

As a classical homeschool mom, we do things in chronological order through history, lining up our biographies, literature, historical fiction pieces, and science… then repeating the cycle. This is the third time we’ve read Gaspara poems sporadically and we finally finished our collection. We’ll start the book all over again in a few years, and maybe one day we’ll know a few of our favorites by heart.

The Bookshop on the Corner – Jenny Colgan

Sucker for a bookshop book! This one was pretty cute, and I’ll probably pick up more books of Colgan’s in the future.

The Ordinary Princess – M. M. Kaye

I loved re-reading this old favorite with my kiddo! We set up the diffusers with lovely fall combinations while we cozied up to the story of Princess Amy.

The Lion in the Living Room: How House Cats Tamed Us and Took Over the World – Abigail Tucker

Abigail Tucker’s journalism is riveting! I don’t even like cats (I’m allergic) and this book kept me enthralled from beginning to end. I highly recommend this for any animal lover, especially if you find yourself wondering why there are so many feral cats creeping along your fence line.

The Story of Doctor Dolittle – Hugh Lofting

There’s a new movie coming out… I’m beside myself with glee and started introducing this glorious serious to the kiddo. We’re trying to read through at least six of the twelve before January.

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal and the Real Count of Monte Cristo – Tom Reiss

The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

I read these two books as a pair. Education is a Lifetime Pursuit, which means that I try to make sure to study new topics (and re-study old topics) right along side my kiddo. I though it would take me longer to read these, and was preparing myself for a long winter session in the French Revolution. I hadn’t read Dumas since I was a kid, he’s a much speedier read as an adult; Reiss’s biography of Dumas’s father blew me away and I plan on using this for high school level required reading when kiddo gets to that point.

The House on Tradd Street – Karen White

This series is a new favorite. I binge read this book in a day after it lurking on my dresser top for years, a chapter from the end I ordered the next in the series. Can’t wait.

The Chronicles of the Awakening – Jeremiah Salyer

I purchased this off an acquaintance in an online Facebook group. I love supporting other authors and sharing work. This wasn’t my cup of tea though. It’s sort of meta-fantasy, and I know a LOT of people like that, but it has to be pretty mind blowing for me to get into that genre. I like my fantasy with more magic and dragons. I’m just not this author’s target audience, but others who read this blog might be…

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A Writing Circle Book Club

September 4, 2019 at 4:56 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

Years ago, I read a book about a writer’s circle. I was intrigued by it and I wrote a review: https://anakalianwhims.wordpress.com/2015/12/11/the-writing-circle/. I believe at the time I joined a Facebook group of writers I knew and we cheered each other on with word count posts and other such encouragements from the depths of cyberspace. I thanked them in the acknowledgements of one of my novels. They were great, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate their friendship and efforts — but it wasn’t a true writer’s group. Or at least not the one I imagine in my head.

I have never sat in a group with prepared writing and exchanged critiques that wasn’t an awkward pairing off in an English course over the literary merits of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Until this month.

Well, it’s just two of us. And we’ve only met once. It’s almost a bit more like a book club of people who write, maybe. But it spurred me on creatively and I’m very excited about it.

For our first meeting, we read Lost Among the Living as homework. The idea is to implement the concept Stephen King talks about in On Writing about having tools in your tool box. I write The Bookshop Hotel series, small town cozy with occasional mysterious interludes (also occasional funny and possibly more than occasional angst). My friend wants to write thrillers. Simone St. James writes somewhere in between, and creatively speaking, she added a few more tools to both our boxes.

Simone St. James nails plot points and pacing, something I tend to grasp and flail at. I typically tell people my books naturally flow like a French film where nothing much happens until my editors say, “Hey, you need a plot point here.” Even my grandmother keeps telling me to put a rat in the store or kill someone off. I have obediently placed “easter egg” mice throughout the story. I enjoyed Lost Among the Living more than I expected to, having chosen in for the purpose of reading it with others and gotten it for next to nothing, rather than for myself alone. It’s not something I would have picked up full price at Barnes & Noble prior to reading one of her titles. As soon as I was through, however, I ordered another of her books on Amazon to be delivered to my kindle. I plan to read it as soon as a cool front comes in. I think her books may best be devoured in front of the fire place.

In the meantime, I am halfway through writing the next two books in my series. If all goes well, I will be sending an anthology of shorts and a full length novel to my publisher in the next three months. I look forward to more “writing circle” meetings and what I can learn and share in them.

If you are a writer, what have been your favorite “tool box” books? (Top of my list is Madeleine L’engle’s Crosswick Journals.)

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The Most Biased Book Review Ever

August 27, 2019 at 2:16 pm (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Title: The Lost Legends

Editor: Adam D. Jones

Today is the day you can buy a physical copy of a book (to be two-day delivered via Amazon to your home) in which the woman I call “the other half of my brain” has written a short-story.

Once upon a time, in college, I had a roommate. I actually had several roommates over the years, but this one is THE Roommate. We shared a dorm. We co-existed. We got a townhouse together, and co-existed some more. We co-existed so well, that fifteen years later, married and with children living in separate cities, we still call each other for morning coffee almost every day. We homeschool our children “together,” planning out the best curriculums and deciphering educational theory by phone. We manage a homeschool Facebook page together, previously referred to as Klemm University, but renamed for our mutual interests as Lovelace Classical Academy (if Facebook will ever allow us to update it, that would be wonderful). But I digress… the point is: She is the other half of my brain. And since we first met, we both knew we wanted to be writers. More than that, we both knew we were writers who simply hadn’t been published yet.

She has lamented and rejoiced with me through every major life event… and now, it’s my turn:

E. S. MURILLO IS A PUBLISHED AUTHOR!

as a contributor to The Lost Legends anthology, edited by Adam D. Jones and Renea McKenzie (more college friends of mine).

This anthology is fun for any fantasy reader, I honestly believe that. The stories are well crafted, edited properly (a huge feat in the indie-publishing world for debut work), and fun. Obviously, An Inconsequential Miscalculation is my favorite, as – by sharing a brain – I was able to see the story as it was meant to be told from its very first incarnation and have had the pleasure of reading it in most of its versions. Reading it in its completed form brings me sheer joy.

Mostly high fantasy, there are a few writers in the mix who are downright funny, the future Terry Pratchetts to the future J.R.R. Tolkiens (My favorite stories are the funny ones)… the anthology has a wide variety of tales, but flows seamlessly as an anthology, which is generally hard to do.

I am exceptionally proud of my friends and would love if all of my fantasy reading followers checked this book out for themselves – you will not be disappointed in it.

Click to order:

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Diminutive Books I Have Loved

August 19, 2019 at 4:20 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Once upon a time…

I was on a book hunting excursion at the Recycled Bookstore in Denton, Texas. That night I purchased and read a book by Paul Collins called Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books. I loved every minute of it and proceeded to hunt down everything the man had ever written. When pressed, I will tell people this is my *favorite* book. As a book lover, it hurts me to choose just one, so I must admit I don’t even know if this is an accurate proclamation. But it is the one I claim.

Later, I would get a job at Half Price Books and not only re-read this gem, but purchase any copies that came into the store. I’ve given several copies away, I think I own a few still, the one I will always keep is the polypropylene covered first edition I bought in Denton. Of all the parts of the book, one quote regarding dust jackets and marketing is the one that has always stuck with me, it’s something I have even told other booksellers when training them:

“Woe and alas to any who transgresses these laws. A number of reviewers railed against ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ because it used the diminutive hardcover size and muted color scheme of, say, an Annie Dillard book–thus cruelly tricking readers of Serious Literature into *buying crap*. Not to be outdone, the Harvard University Press issued Walter Benjamin’s opus ‘The Arcades Project’ with gigantic raised metallic lettering. One can only imagine the disgust of blowhard fiftysomethings in bomber jackets as they slowly realised that the project they were reading about was a cultural analysis of 19th century Parisian bourgeoisie–and not, say, a tale involving renegade Russian scientists and a mad general aboard a nuclear submarine.” 

I am a sucker for diminutively sized hardback books with matte finished covers, especially if they are about books or nature. Case and Point: the hardback edition of Sixpence House is 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches in size. It isn’t small per se, but it is definitely smaller than your typical contemporary New York Times bestselling fiction, like Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, for instance, which is 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches. Or, if your flavor is more sci-fi/fantasy, Brandon Sanderson’s Way of Kings hardcover stands at 6.4 x 2 x 9.6 inches. 8.6 inches to 9.6 inches is a meaningful jump in the publishing world. It tells you something about what is lurking inside those beautiful, beautiful pages.

Imagine how much more significant a leap from 9.6 inches down to 7.3 inches, which is the height of the hardcover edition of The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating. I plucked this book up sometime before I separated from my ex-husband. I read it just a month before I finally said enough was enough. I remember reading it and craving the calm of being bedridden and having nothing to do except think and watch a snail creep around the house. I was aware that it was probably ridiculously unhealthy – to crave someone else’s pain, but I was very much exhausted of my own. Much relief comes from evicting an abusive drunk from your home, but before you’re free it’s nice to find comfort in books like this one. I’d like to re-read it again, and soon, so I can appreciate it more fully for what it is rather than using it to hide from what it isn’t.

I’m in a good place now, much healing has occurred over the last few years, but I still occasionally crave tiny and textured books. Keeping an eye out for calming and similar reading experiences, and knowing what I know about book covers, imagine my glee when I discovered Grayson by Lynne Cox.

One of the most lovely qualities of such books is that they can be read in one sitting by nearly any audience, but they rarely talk down to the reader and are often articulate and well-researched. These are the books written by amateur observers – remember the Latin root for amateur is amo, “I love.” An amateur is not someone who is less competent, as the connotation has evolved, but someone who has learned something for the sheer passion of it. They didn’t study for a grade, they aren’t necessarily doing it for their job, instead it is their passionate hobby. It is what they pursue at the end of the day when their bones are tired and their eyelids weak.

Lynne Cox loved to swim in the ocean. She swam every day for miles. I read about her swimming habits and am in awe. Several times I looked at my fiancé and said, “I would have drowned.” I definitely would have probably choked on the grunion when it slithered into my mouth, and then drowned. But Lynne Cox didn’t drown the day a baby whale found her during her morning swim. In fact, she swam and tread water for hours so she could help him find his mama. She didn’t go back to shore when her lungs were burning and her body freezing, because he would have beached himself and died. Lynne Cox loves the open water and the beach and you can experience how deep this love goes when you read about just one morning of her whole life. So much quality is packed into 150 pages: quality time (my love language), quality writing, rich and genuine details about sea creatures off the coast of California. I loved every second of this darling book and I’m grateful Cox chose to share it with the world.

This experience, to me, defines the genre of diminutive books. They aren’t separated out in any particular way in any bookstore I’ve ever patronized (again, I’m using the less commonly used definition here: “frequently shop”), but they definitely reside in the same file folder in my brain… and yes, my brain is actually a series of files and folders (and boxes and “gently raining post-it notes”) I spend hours sorting through. The books, and an assortment of others, all belong in the same place in my mind – not just belong in the same place, but belong to each other, I think.

Each one is a small nod of knowing to another, whether they are aware of it or not, guiding people ever so tenderly down a cobblestone path lit by fireflies and dreams…

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Gilgamesh

July 26, 2019 at 4:47 am (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

If you’re studying ancient history in chronological order, sometime after you’ve read the Book of Genesis, it’s really fun to dive into Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is an epic poem most kids have to read in high school or early college for literature classes, originally written in Akkadian. It’s a mythological adventure about a real Sumerian king documented in history, who, like many kings of old, became a legend passed down through the ages, the truth of his life distorted and lost to deification.

Ludmilla Zeman has a fantastic children’s picture book trilogy that I find to be the best starting point for learning about Gilgamesh. It is consistent with most translations and full of beautiful illustrations. When kiddo was small and we were studying ancient history the first time around, we checked these out from the library over and over again. She loved them. This time I bought them, brand new. They’re worth every penny.

I picked up used copies of the epic for myself. I was disappointed to discover that every translation available was a translation of a translation. I know its ignorant to expect to read direct translations of the Old Babylonian tablets when you pick up a Penguin trade paperback, but I did. I went back to the store after reading through David Ferry’s pretty version and N.K. Sandar’s better translation, looking for something closer to Andrew George’s 2003 version – or better yet, George Smith’s 1870’s version! To no avail. Everyone wants new and better more modern ways to tell the tale, while I bemoan my inability to read archaic clay tablets I’d never get my hands on anyway.

I was hoping to find a cool cartoon on the tale for us to watch together, desiring a repeat of the experience we had when we studied Beowulf in 2016 (YouTube had an amazing cartoon rendition of Beowulf featuring the voice of Joseph Fiennes at the time…). All I found were some not so kid friendly “cliff notes” style videos of people walking students through what it was all about so they wouldn’t have to read the book themselves.

Attention all animators: Please provide a kid appropriate Gilgamesh cartoon, featuring an oddly famous actor of the 90’s of my choice. Thanks.

Gilgamesh is neat. I love the beautiful picture books we own. I will be the parent that makes sure she reads poem and doesn’t watch internet video summaries when she’s older. But I’m not in love with it the way I am with The Iliad and Beowulf. I think it may be the insincerity of it all. It feels obvious that it was a legend born of puffing up the ego of a king and his people. It takes Noah’s ark and twists it, I love reading confirmation that many regions of the world had a major flood, I’m saddened when the details are distorted and inconsistent, making heroes of those who weren’t and forgetting the one man who did obey.

Maybe I’ll love it when I finally get my hands on one of the George translations…

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